Name: Kat Tretina
Location: Orlando, Florida
Bio: Kat has been a freelance writer for six years, but has only been freelancing full-time for one. Her work has appeared in publications like The Huffington Post, Entrepreneur, MarketWatch, and more. She lives in Orlando, FL with her husband and two very fluffy dogs.
How long have you been doing freelance work?
More than 5 years.
Tell us about your freelance business, in 200 words or less.
I specialize in producing personal finance content, especially topics around debt repayment, boosting your income, and investing. My goal is to help people better their finances with the information I give them.
What do you consider to be your specialty. How does it help you in your business?
My ideal clients are content providers and financial institutions that market directly to consumers. I look for clients that are producing content that is approachable and actionable.
What made you become a freelancer?
I started freelancing as a side-hustle while working full-time in public relations to help pay down debt. Over time, my freelancing income was more than my annual salary, so I took the plunge and became a full-time freelancer last year.
What do you love most about freelance work, and why?
I love being able to pick clients and assignments that excite me. I’m able to do work that is meaningful to me, while earning a good income at the same time.
What do you hate about it?
Having to pay for health insurance through the Health Insurance Marketplace rather than having access to an employer-sponsored plan is painful for my budget!
Tell us about your first paid job. How did you land your first client?
My first paid writing gig was for a niche finance site about how I paid off my student loans with side hustles — it paid $75. I had written two unpaid guest posts for other sites, so I used those articles to showcase my work when I pitched the idea to the client.
Do you think aspiring freelancers should take unpaid work to gain experience? Why or why not?
I got my start by doing two unpaid guest posts. That was enough work for me to build a tiny portfolio and get some clips, which I then turned into paid work. I think doing one or two unpaid articles is okay to get the clips you need, but it’s not ideal. And I’d certainly never recommend writers do more than that.
Do you feel you’re charging what you’re worth?
My rates vary depending on the client and type of work involved. My rates have gone up over the past year, but it’s certainly a challenge. I worry I charge too much and may be losing out on clients, but at the same time, I don’t want to undercut myself.
Describe your process for finding new clients? Where do you look?
I primarily do cold outreach, meaning I look up companies in my niche (finance) and email them offering my services and linking to my portfolio. Some clients — about 30% of my client list — find me on their own through LinkedIn or my website.
Have you ever had to ‘fire’ a client? If so, why and how did you do it?
I’ve fired clients in the past. Primarily, it was because of difference of opinion when it came to creating content. They were overly focused on SEO, in my opinion, sacrificing what sounded natural to stuff in keywords. I simply told them I didn’t think we were a good fit for one another, and ended the relationship.
Name 3 tools (apps, equipment) that you can’t live without. What makes them so great?
QuickBooks, Grammarly, and my Chromebook.
What is your #1 productivity hack?
Find your most productive time and keep to it. For me, I work best in the very early mornings, so I block out that time for writing and spend afternoons doing other work, like responding to emails, doing interviews, or research.
Do you outsource tasks? Why or why not? If so, which ones?
I have used a virtual assistant in the past to help me do research and handle social media, which helped increase my productivity.
In your opinion, what is the most important skill required for freelance work, and why?
Freelancers need to be ridiculously organized, which is my weak spot. But you’ll have to juggle 1,000 different tasks, including deadlines, bookkeeping, and invoicing. You need to have a system in place that keeps you on tasks and prevents you from dropping any balls.
Do you consider yourself a strong time manager? How do you stay organized?
Time management is a weakness of mine, but I’ve come up with systems that work for me. I use Asana to track my deadlines, and I use Google Calendars and Calendly to remind myself about important meetings (and estimated tax deadlines!).
Do you also work a 9-5? If so, how do you balance it with your freelance business?
When I first started freelancing, I worked a regular full-time job, too. I would wake up at 4:00am and squeeze in an hour or two of writing before work. I’d bring my Chromebook to work so I could write during my lunch break, and I set aside an hour or two in the evenings to write, too. It was exhausting, but I was able to build a profitable business, which allowed me to quit my full-time job.
Where do you do most of your work?
I have to work in my home office; working in a coffee shop or outside just distracts me. I need structure and routine to stay focused.
Do you use a co-working space? Tell us a bit about it.
I do not.
Name an entrepreneur/freelancer/influencer who inspires you. What is it about their story/message that resonates?
Ben Luthi is my hero. He produces top notch content, but he’s also focused on giving a hand up to other writers and finance professionals. Paying it forward is something that really resonates with me, and something I try to emulate.
Name 1 thing you would do differently, if you were starting over today?
I would have raised my rates sooner, if I could do it over again. I was so excited to get clients, I was willing to accept 10 cents a word for far longer than I should have.
What is your #1 tip for aspiring freelancers?
I would say freelancers should avoid job boards; there’s too much competition, and you end up lowering your rates just to get a gig. Instead, do cold outreach to companies in your niche. You’ll be able to command higher rates and land plum assignments.
MMM: Kat, thank you for providing such great insight into your life as a freelancer! I love the advice about focusing on ‘cold’ pitches. On the surface, it doesn’t sound like an easy way to land clients, but I can see how it allows you to pursue more lucrative opportunities that are of interest. I love how you incorporate productivity apps (Asana/Google Calendars) to help close a perceived gap. And, your feelings on new freelancers accepting unpaid work. I had a similar experience…2 unpaid pieces has led to thousands of dollars of work. Love it!!
Here’s something cool! Kat mentions fellow freelance writer, Ben Luthi, as an influence. It just so happens that Ben is my guest next week, right here! Ben is a personal finance writer based in Lehi, Utah. His work has appeared in several online publications, including U.S. News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, USA Today, MONEY, Success and more. Make sure you check back in next week as Ben drops some serious freelance wisdom!
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